Back in August, we traveled to Gatlinburg for our first vacation together in over two years, and I’m just now getting around to sharing the details. I know, I know, way behind. Our schedules have been crazy ever since we got back and I haven’t been balancing it very well (obviously). I had intended on sharing this blog post shortly after we returned, but honestly time just got away from me.
In total, our vacation was five days, spending three days in the Smoky Mountains, hiking and exploring Gatlinburg, and another two days in Knoxville eating good food and enjoying the up and coming city. This was our first time visiting the south so we were looking forward to southern hospitality and delicious comfort food. Of course, what we were most looking forward to was to hiking the beautiful Smoky Mountains of the Appalachian Mountains.
During our vacations, we try and get away from the city life for a few days and enjoy as much of the local attractions as we can. The mountains of Gatlinburg definitely has this to offer, if you do you research and know where to go. This vacation was one of our favorites we’ve taken, though I’ve loved all our trips, and would recommend a trip to the most visited US National Park.
Our Galtinburg & Knoxville Vacation
On our first day, we got up bright and early for our 6:30 a.m. flight. The first thing I did at the airport was enjoy a donut from Angel Food. I couldn’t say no to their delicious baked goods, even that early in the morning. Plus I was on vacation – treat yourself! We grabbed our connection in Chicago before flying into the modestly sized Knoxville airport to begin our adventures.
We grabbed our rental car and headed to an early lunch at Calhoun’s. While the food wasn’t a highlight, the service and beverages were amazing. We had the nicest server who gave us samples of the local brews and the best attractions that we should check out (and those to avoid). We purchased a few brews courtesy of the Smoky Mountain Brewery and enjoyed the beautiful weather on Calhoun’s patio.
After lunch, we drove to through Pigeon Forge towards our Gatlinburg Airbnb. If you’re more of the hiking type, I recommend skipping Pigeon Forge all together. The city was all tourists and much more city-like than I was expecting it to be. We arrived at our Airbnb, after a steep drive up the mountainside, to an amazing view that looked down into Downtown Gatlinburg and a clear view of green mountains surrounding the city.
That evening we drove to the Scenic Overlook before going into Downtown Gatlinburg. The overlook is perfect for taking scenic and couple-y pictures, and just taking in the view of the city. Downtown was very busy and I’m glad we went there on our first night. We strolled down main street, peeking in shops as we went along, including the Old Smoky Mountain Moonshine Distillery where there was live music being played. At the end of the night, we grabbed a small dinner and then ice cream at Maddog’s Creamery & Donuts.
Saturday was a packed day of hiking and exploring the mountains, so we started bright and early to watch the sun rise over the mountains from our Airbnb’s patio. It was beautiful. I’ve never had the opportunity to watch the sun rise, and I enjoyed every second of it. Of course, while snapping pictures. After a hearty breakfast at our Airbnb, we drove to the Gatlinburg Visitor Center to grab a map and snap a few pictures. When we were there, there was a park ranger on staff available for questions before your trek and free granola bars! I grabbed a bar for Jake and I, and then purchased our usual magnet and postcards for our memory box.
For our first hike, we headed to Grotto Falls! I heard of these falls because you can walk behind once you reached them so I was in. We threw on our bear bells and started into the mountainside. What I thought was going to be a simple hike up to waterfalls, turned into three hour trek up into the mountains. The hike was well worth it and the view of the falls were perfect on this day. The trail was highly trafficked and moderately simple – in fact we saw a lot of families hiking the trail.
After hiking back out of the mountainside, we grabbed lunch at the Smoky Mountain Brewery in Downtown Gatlinburg which I highly recommend! The brews and burgers are very tasty! For the second half of the day, we traveled to the New Foundland Gap where you can stand in both Tennessee and North Carolina. Again, the view was amazing. Finally, we drove to Clingman’s Dome, one of the highest points in the mountains.
For our second day of hiking, Jake recommended that we hike a lightly trafficked trail compared to Saturday’s trails. I was on board for this especially since it was a bit warmer than Saturday. We parked at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and headed out for the Old Sugarlands Trail just a few feet away. As we started into the trail, we walked by a few fellow hikers who said they had heard of a baby cub being nearby. A baby cub means momma bear is also nearby. I started to get a little nervous, but we continued on since the trail was easy. A mile or so later, we saw a few more people who said to be careful since they had seen the baby cub. I told Jake I wanted to turn around, but he insisted that we go to the top of the trail.
Once we reached the top of the hill, I was eager to turn around, but Jake insisted on a kiss before getting down on one knee. The whole time we were hiking up the hill, Jake was planning to propose! I was completely shocked and couldn’t believe it was happening. I said yes and took in as much of the moment as I could. We hiked our way back down the trail and took a few pictures in front of the trail entrance and visitor center. We took another short walk on a nearby trail before driving to Knoxville for the rest of our trip.
That evening in Knoxville, we grabbed a light dinner and drink at The Public House, where they serve specialty cocktails and a variety of hot dogs – including veggie dogs! After dinner, we were lucky enough to snag a parking spot in the heart of downtown and walked to Cruze Farm Dairy for a healthy serving of ice cream. The ice cream shop is laced in red plaid, including the outfits that the servers are donning. They serve your typical ice cream cones, shakes, and malts including twist cones in a variety of flavors – I chose peanut butter and chocolate chip cookie dough, with sprinkles of course.
It was going to be a hot one in Knoxville, so we got started with our day pretty early. We grabbed breakfast at Rami’s Cafe, which was about 10 minutes from downtown and full of southern charm. The food was delicious and the price was on point – I highly recommend this small diner if you’re visiting the city. I ordered Rami’s Breakfast Special with chocolate chip pancakes and they were so kind as to sub the sausage for deli turkey. After filling up breakfast, we made our way to the Sunsphere for a scenic overlook, before returning our rental car.
We spent the afternoon poolside at our Airbnb (it was 90 degrees and the sun was out all day!) and I sent off a postcard to our fellow wanderlust friends in San Francisco. For our last night of the vacation, we wanted to go somewhere special to celebrate our engagement. We picked went to Tupelo Honey Cafe in Market Square, which has traditional southern dishes with a twist. Everything about the restaurant and service, was amazing and highly recommend the spot for a nice date night.
On our final day of the trip, we grabbed some coffee at the local Golden Roast Coffee Roasters before packing up and heading to the airport. Our flights home were an adventure in themselves as all the flights of the day were delayed from early morning storms. My greatest concern was getting home at a decent time so we could tell my dad that we were engaged. We made all our flights, my dad picked us up from the airport, and was very excited to hear the news! Now the planning begins!
If you enjoy a vacation in the outdoors and hiking, then I recommend a trip to the Smoky Mountains! We had a great time in the outdoors and everyone was friendly. I keep thinking back on the trip and wanting to go back, because we enjoyed our trip so much.
We definitely have the wanderlust bug and already have our next trip booked for spring – this time to Mexico so stay tuned!